Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Anxiety Bites

It is November. This is baffling to me because it was, like, May 5 seconds ago right?! I know the years are supposed to go faster as you get older but I swear someone has put this one on some kind of sonic skip forward while I wasn’t 

It’s been a strange year and the last few months, since the beginning of August, have been particularly challenging in many ways. Some of those challenges I set myself (like simultaneously completing two diplomas just for the hell of it – never again) and some were completely unforeseen and bizarre, they never could have been prepared for. I feel utterly exhausted by the whole period of time and this is well reflected in the fact that I have been particularly fragile over the last few weeks, including an incident where I burst into tears in a completely unacceptable situation where I should have been able to hold it 

I feel like a period of intense activity has gone on and left me with nothing further to give. I was in Singapore for a conference at the end of September and the week I was there was nothing short of an ordeal in many ways as I battled the worst period of anxiety I have suffered in about 5 years. It had been a long time since I had been so anxious as to have physical symptoms (I get a lump in my throat that just won’t go away and makes me feel like I am being suffocated) and despite being aware of the tools and tricks needed to cope with such a situation, sometimes it just grips you so bad that you have to take it minute by minute until you can calm down enough to form a plan.

To get through the worst parts (which happened once Stu had left for a trip around Burma – don’t ask) took every ounce of mindfulness I could draw upon. Writing down what exactly I was stressing about and then rationalising why there was no need, making lists of things to look forward to. Deciding on plans of action to keep myself busy and then the hardest part, forcing myself to leave the sanctuary of the hotel room and go out into hot, sticky Singapore to keep my mind full of enough distraction to block the anxiety pangs out.

Me down at the Harbour with the Merlion

I made myself wander, enter temples and smile at strangers and slowly but surely the savage fears subsided. In the daytime, at least, this is possible. I believe it is a particularly evil feature of anxiety that (for me at least) the pangs that are worst, the ones I can never quite get a handle on, are the ones that either wake me in an uncontrollable panic or totally prevent me from descending from half asleep to fully asleep. In this morbid, limbo mind-space it can feel like I am drowning, literally being dragged into the depths with no air, physically gripped with a fear that cannot be shaken.

Even when I manage to break the moment and properly wake up, the overwhelming sense of failure, despair and fear still lingers. Everything seems so completely out of control, broken, disappointing and mortifying in these moments.

Anyway, I managed, moment by moment, to get through the time I had in Singapore and actually enjoy some aspects of it. I also managed, by power of the mind, to bury a huge amount of anger over a particular incident that I had been successfully ignoring. I kind of knew this would eventually need to come out but I sure as hell did not want it to do so while I was away from home.
I don’t think I have ever been so relieved to get home from a trip abroad (for business or pleasure – and this was technically both). 

Most people who know me will think of me as a text book extrovert and usually that is pretty accurate. On the whole though, I really disagree with the labels introvert/extrovert because I think that although people might naturally lean more towards one or the other, everybody has elements of both. I think one of the most interesting things about anxiety for me is that it makes me want to retreat and spend time only with Stu or by myself. The whole rigmarole of socialising becomes an utter chore and the very last thing I want to do. I crave the intimacy and security of just us in these times.  

I have spent the month or so since I returned trying to focus on the things I needed to do to soothe my frenzied brain, sleeping a lot, walking wonderful Fin (our new puppy) and spending time outside on the beach in the beautiful place we live. I still feel fragile but I also feel like the worst has passed. Now I need to concentrate on not being defensive and letting go of some of the residual anger and not letting it colour future plans.

I am heading back to the UK without Stu at xmas and I can feel this being a trigger for further anxiety so I am trying to manage that and not let it spin out of control. I need to be more assertive with how that trip will go and ensure that I spend time only with the people I know will make me happy instead of trying to accommodate too many demands on my time. I need to be selfish on this trip and make it a real respite and not a frantic dash around without stopping and relaxing. I guess this might mean pissing people off but to be honest I think I no longer care too much on that front, I live 10,000 miles from the UK, I don’t need negativity from that direction any more, life really is too short.

And then 2016 will roll around and we can wipe the slate clean and start again. I guess this blog post needed crafting (and it has been written and rewritten more times than you might think to get it into a publishable version) to work through the residual sticky bits in my brain. I am not ashamed to talk about suffering anxiety, I am just lucky enough to have had sufficient help in the past that I can talk about it and manage it when it happens.